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Feature Article of Saturday, 8 July 2006

Columnist: Klubi, Togbi Sedem

Tribute to the late Professor Albert Adu Boahen

... Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Ghana, Legon

“Death is a happy little happening; a moment in which life sings its melodious songs mournfully”.

Professor Adu Boahen, emeritus Professor of history at the University of Ghana is dead? Why should this happen to Ghana at this time when the governing party , the New Patriotic Party –representing the political tradition to which he belongs - in which he invested so much of his time and energy is in power? We can only grief and sigh nigh t hat the NPP is bereft of it s soul.

AOH! We are dead for good? We are denuded of some other perspectives of his on Ghana’s history which we are living witnesses to. We regard this moment of mourning, as a pickaxe with which we have dug dip into the soil of our consciousness so as to release the fountain of spiritual strength that lies within us.

Is it true that when a historian dies, we experience gloom-gloom even when the shade of divine mother’s hand outstretches unceasingly to us.

Adu Boahen was not one who overestimated his achievements and personal worth. In addition, he had the capacity to give himself away completely and to build the particular into that entire God wanted him to do that he might lift the historical academia in splendour. A greater spectrum of the late Adu Boahen (Prof) is epitomized by the array of tributes that his students and other of the political apparatchik of different hues and colours are paying to his quality of scholarship and leadership.

We are all in grief. We have lost a fiery speaker. However, we live on in the faith as we are certain that God will be even closer to him with its celestial powers to continue to carry on the battle of life that he aborted for whatever reasons.

How happy Adu Boahen must be in heaven, which he deserves so well, to see most of his acquaintances pay him such grand homage. As for me, I am sure that his thoughts are in the hearts of all his former students at the University of Ghana and elsewhere. I will often invoke the late Adu Boahen (Prof) in my prayers, so that I will persevere in the global effort at enrichment of the knowledge of mankind about Ghana’s strength through the dissemination of its history which he championed.

The sudden loss of our beloved former lecturer is a great grief, yet a great joy. It is a great grief because our nation has lost an achiever and an academic who has been invaluable to our studies from our Ordinary level certificate days. It was he who also helped sharpen our sense of critical analysis and perspectives on urgent national issues.

It was him who later torched, nay responded to the open invitation by the Head of State and Chairman of the PNDC to Ghanaians to break the creeping ‘Culture of Silence’ through three lectures at the British Council Hall in a manner that left the protagonists of the 31st December Revolutionary reconstruct to pour out all kinds of invectives and diatribes on his patriotic credentials.

The propensity to break the Culture of Silence was ignited by Chairman Rawlings himself when he said that people at various levels of authority are using the chain of command to subjugate and demand a subservient state of interrelationships with subordinates. He noted that this situation was leading to the return of the ‘Culture of Silence’. This was happening between ‘high government officials and the public, District Secretaries and the people; chiefs and their subjects; bishops, priests and church members; managers and workers.’ (Daily Graphic of April 6, 1987)

In repose the late Professor Adu Boahen said:

‘I am afraid that I do not agree with Rawlings’ explanation of the sedulity of Ghanaians. We have not protested or staged riots because we cannot but because we fear the PNDC. We are afraid of being defamed, liquidated or dragged before the CVC or NIC or being subjected to all kinds of molestations. And in this case have Ghanaians not been protesting at all us the Head of State thinks? They have been but in a very subtle and great way – hence the Culture of Silence.

Those above two speeches embodied two significant moments in the pre-4th Republican constitutional political history of Ghana. The one by Professor Adu Boahen was a direct response to the one by Rawlings but both had an internal logic, directed at a specific audience.

Rawlings Sunyani speech was a conscious effort aimed at rekindling some of the support that had slipped so noticeably in recent times, whilst Adu’s was a significant almost first broadside against the PNDC inside the country. Rawlings speech was almost a little disingenuous one for the reasons for the culture of silence which did not distract from a performance of a repair job on the popular support that was slipping by noticeably. It was significant shorthand for various stratagems of political management that the PNDC employed to effectively usher the country into a democratic rule, which marked Rawlings not as a dictator but as a real arch manipulator.

Adu Boahen’s was a woeful effort to revisit the triumph of the opposition element which had toppled Acheampong. The only good thing about Adu Boahen’s was that it could not easily be discarded and he could also not be discredited as a member of the Old guard. It ignited a wait; and a spending of more time by Ghanaians to discuss the cut and thrust of political debate.

Significantly, the real politics of the PNDC collided with the demands of the opposition but not the prospects of real political turbulence which some seem to adduce as the reasons why the PNDC did not dig deeper. The opposition feared the kind of mayhem that ‘small boys’ would have visited on their social betters if they had taken to the streets during the revolutionary era. Hence, the adoption of the format of small meeting directed at small audiences rather than a mob.

Yet, unlike some of his ‘ostrich’ compatriots, Adu Boahen accepts and extols the validity, the inevitability and irreversibility of the power and force of the June 4, 1979 uprising, which was `ignited by the ‘fireball’ Charismatic Jerry John Rawlings on May 15, 1979.

On 17th June 1979, and on 30th June, 1979 in a broadcast to the nation. Flt Lt. JJ Rawlings said:

I wish to avail myself to emphasize once again our resolve not to entrench ourselves in office; we are professional soldiers, and we want to return to the line. It was for the resuscitation and the preservation of the traditions of our profession, and the correction of injustices in the society to which we all belong 9that led us) to overthrow the Supreme Military Council. We are in for house –cleaning, the not for the government of this country…

Again in his broadcast on 30th June 1979, he repeated that the June 4 action represented an “a revolt of the ordinary Ghanaian against injustice, against economic hardship and against the cancer of corruption that had eaten deep into the fabric of our society”, and he continued:

Seven years in office, the Army was going back to barracks without any steps having been taken to punish those who had tarnished the name of the Armed Forces. This situation posed a threat to the continued existence of the Armed Forces and the stability of the country, hence the spontaneous action of June 4 to pre-empt a coup immediately after hand –over to a civilian administration.”

On page 22 of the Ghanaian Sphinx, Adu Boahen emphasized that: In other words, the main motives of June 4 were to punish the corrupt and the guilty, to ensure social justice and restore the tarnished reputation of the Armed Forces. From their subsequent actions and pronouncements, it was obvious that the AFRC saw the rehabilitation of the image of the Armed Forces as even more urgent than the house-cleaning exercise involving civilians and ensuring social justice. Any Ghanaian, Adu Boahen said’ who had lived through the era of the Men on Horseback since 1972 would not deny the validity of these grounds for June 4.

It was sad that such a Pan –African historian died in the mid of the night of 23rd May 2006 after celebrating his birthday with colleagues, associates, friends and family, in the firm assurance that Ghanaians, like other Africans were going to enjoy the African Union day holidays the following day.

He was a frank and pragmatic individual who believes in the ideology of ‘Ghanaism’ as propounded by his late uncle, the late Dr. J.B Danqauh and elaborated on by Benstil – Enchill. J.B Danquah defined his ideology of Ghanaism as “the ideology of individual freedom and personal worth” which he derived from the Akan or Ghanaian world outlook and culture and, especially from three Akan sayings, (page 3 of The Ghanaian Sphinx).

It is true that many appreciated his work but what he really achieved in his lifetime becomes clear when we take a closer look at his work in retrospect in our politics and in our studies and in our writings.

One of the early forebears of history at the fledging University of Ghana (founded in 1948) in the mid -1950’s and later a lecturer, he left behind titles on various aspects of the history of Ghana which are worth our attention even though we do not agree with aspects of his rendition and interpretation of some facts and issues. These bear trademarks of his greater sense of assiduity and achievement.

Even in the midst of having lost the opportunity of the invitation of the Search Committee to contest the Vice-Chancellorship of the University of Ghana, he unbothered about what our political leanings were, competently discharged his duties and responsibilities to us his students with a greater degree of clarity and efficiency. On occasions he jarred our ears with his noises, with his biased view points on some issues, yet he registered back strongly on us as one who listened with revised presentations at another lecture session, branding the previous as just introductory remarks.

His answers to our questions portrayed him as one, who combined humanism with his work, yes, as one who attended to all important questions for the well-being of his associates and colleagues. That is, just to say that he remembered in the tiniest details his writings and discoveries more than anybody else.

Rarely did anyone doubt his authority and at the same time; he was close to his students personally not as an acclaimed Ghana and African history expert but in his personal unique personal style as an ordinary human being who struggled on the bare necessities of his not-to-good humble parentage to share his intellectual resources with the rest of mankind. Indeed, he became what he was through affection and refusal, through fear and love and all that which you know constitute a personality.

He honoured his words, and measured his promises according to his capacity to perform those promises. Impliedly, he courageously accepted the unpleasant and sad parts of his life with equanimity. And the best example was his bravery in sickness and the acceptance that he had to die to be reborn. I do know that he is lying comfortably and cooingly in the evergreen wombs of his new mother.

That notwithstanding, symbolic of him was a personal care, good dose of humanism and criticism of criticism which was no secret to all of us his students of history. His legacy to us is love of work, love of people and love of history and we are united in the knowledge that we really, bearing in mind that his daughter Cynara Akua Boahen was our year mate, worried him joyously in lectures.

Though he is seemingly far removed from us now, yet we feel flashes of him because we all come from this infinitely large souls of energy / emptiness that we all go back to just as a river merges with the ocean. In that process the river loses its individuality. The river and the water molecules all cease to have individual existence and hence, have neither need nor fear for being individual. This collective awareness is calming and peaceful. That is where Professor Albert Adu Boahen is now. That is why we rejoice and that is what we rejoice about.

His death at ten score plus four is still young as his enthusiasm to yell out at the wrongs and injustices in the society refused to grow gray hair. It is an irreversible narcosis of a catastrophe to us mere mortal. A scholar with a good command over the English language and a self-sacrificing campaigner for social justice who worked for the nourishment of the sum total human progress and happiness, he was really endowed with witty a word which is a sunshine on this boring, remorse national life.

It was the Herculean study and work ethic and also the desire to complete his works on time that made him to pay for its costs in terms of his health. I can confidently without any fear of contradiction say that at 74, he was a fountain of youth who tried to be interesting to others. He really gave of himself, his time and energy to his family or friends. Yet, there was showmanship in whatever he was doing in furtherance of his political work.

By it he was a rich man; a warm and friendly personality with many friends, which sculpted him to show a warm, happy glow over our thoughts and lives because ‘the tide in the affairs of men when taken at the floods leads us into the future. “Omitted”, Shakespeare continues,’all the voyages of their life is bound in shallows and miseries”.

Now, we can all say in unison that our deceased lecturer, our political mentor, the absentee farmer in the Central Region, the democratically defeated Presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party in the 1992 presidential elections is riding high on the floods to all the good things he wants through the glory and presence of the God. He was a great lesson in humility, giving us doses of advice and whatever information we needed to graduate from the University. He made the study of History very, very interesting to us.

In many circumstances, Professor Adu Boahen’s decisions took a great deal of courage. They reflected in the political campaign, spearheaded by People’s Movement for Freedom and Justice against the General I.K Acheampong’s led Supreme military Government’s misrule of the sovereign republic Ghana. It showed in breakaway from his political tradition to join the United Convention party in 1979, which partly accounted for the defeat of the Popular front Party in the post - Armed Forces Revolutionary Council elections in 1979.

Many of your society friends threatened to disinherit him for his utterances which were in favour of their perceived political enemy. Nevertheless, the late Professor Adu Boahen endured all the hurt and the vilification in order to get what he really wanted. In other words, when the sun was shinning brightly on his life, he made many things happen through teaching us to know we cannot go very far in this uncertain future when we are looking back.

For thou, O God has tested us;

Thou hast tried us as silver is tried.

Psalm 66:10

Consequently, we have been acting your deeds-not telling stories about you-in order to win most of the battles of life by looking ahead beyond the sun. As for us, your students even at the other side of the political divide, we measure and remember your life not by how many years you lived but by the kindly things you did, the happiness you gave to all those who crossed your path, and the happiness we are enjoying.

We can only say Kontopiat Professor Albert Kwadzo Adu Boahen, Rest in Peace Perfect Peace. Amen



Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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